April 26th, 2012
I haven’t written a post in what feels like forever so forgive me if this is rusty. I’ve had a lot of struggle with motivation over the last year which is the last thing a writer wants to go through, but you don’t want to read about my exciting internal issues right?
Six Four is a mystery/thriller set in Japan that races along through the eyes of Mikama, the Media Relations director (and former detective) of a local district of the police. His teenage daughter is missing, the commissioner is coming from Tokyo for a visit, the most famous (and only) 14 year old unsolved case in the district’s history has resurfaced, and the members of the press are out for Mikama’s blood.
That’s really the best way to summarize the entire thing, but it’s far more exciting than that. Internal conflict both of a personal nature and in and out of the office dominate the novel. Mikami’s transfer from detective to Media Relations has never sat well with him. The departments are polar opposites neither trusting the other, and now neither trusts him because, hey didn’t you work for the other guys? His job now is to communicate official reports to the press (ravenous beasts) yet the police withhold information like Gollum with the ring (no one can have this intel, No ONE!) This puts Mikami in the middle of a tug of war where both sides sneer at the instrument between them.
Mikami doesn’t sleep well, his wife is distant, his bosses are down his throat, his own people don’t respect him, and he doesn’t know where his own loyalties lie. So between his true instincts as a detective and his all-consuming desire to do his job well and wondering what the hell is actually going on here? Mikami runs around the book like a chicken with his head cut off. But he’s an efficient chicken in this case. When all of these internal and external conflicts Mikami experience collide at once, well the poor man starts having anxiety attacks to say the least. Yet the Japanese work ethic demands he push himself ever closer to the brink to do his job. Not to mention did I say his daughter is missing, the commissioner is coming and the press is out for blood?
‘Six Four’ has got to be one of the best translations I’ve ever read – thanks to (a Welshman?!) Jonathan Lloyd-Davies who seems to be getting hardly any recognition online – and I’m digressing, but I think this is well worth mentioning because I’ve read a few translations where it just made the entire story fall flat. Can you imagining translating so well that the prose, the punctuation, the words chosen make the book a bestseller in that language too? Well done.
Back to the story. I don’t usually prefer crime or mystery bestsellers because a. I already went through that phase and b. the tropes. Oh the tropes. ‘Six Four’ takes cultural differences that were admittedly difficult to understand in places and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Or propped up in bed, as I was. The press savages poor Mikami and I had a hard time figuring out why it was allowed and why it was all such a big deal. So the police didn’t give him specific details, why are the members of the press not only allowed to make you feel like dirt, but to cause significant stress (they totally broke one poor man) to the people who’s job it is to give them details?
Japanese culture when it comes to saving face seems to be the biggest reason because no one will back down first without ‘an out’ or an official apology – demands for which were many and varied; but also there’s the, to me personally, archaic way of treating superiors like a drop of rain must never touch their shoe nor a speck of dust land on their desk MUCH LESS AN INTERNAL MEMO OF COMPLAINT!! The kind of manic energy surrounding one scene where Mikami tries to avoid the memo business is particularly memorable. This attitude I kind of get, but I really don’t either as it’s more of a foreign concept; yet it has to be accepted as important to the character and the story. ‘Six Four’ keeps your full attention throughout the entire novel. Extremely fast paced and humorous too even if you’re barely hanging on to understanding the situation, Yokoyama has included a very helpful ‘who’s who’ guide at the forefront, it’ll be your friend.
‘Six Four’ might disappoint some as the climax is not what you might expect – with every storyline neatly packaged and ends tied. In general the reader should not make the mistake of thinking this is a thriller in the American way. No graphic scares or frights here, no gory details and only one or two delicately placed curse words when THEY’VE REALLY HAD IT UP TO HERE!! But this book wasn’t for us, it was for the Japanese and they loved it.
In the end for me, the fulfillment of character growth and where you can see their lives headed satisfied. Now I’m only irritated that this is Yokoyama’s only translation into English. So, Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, what are you up to?